Tibetan Names and Their Religious Meaning

Tibetan Names and Their Religious Meaning

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Tibetan Buddhism spread into Tibet during the period of King Songtsan Gambo.Tibet has since been a Buddhist region.Buddhist culture permeates not only in philosophy,language,music,fine arts and architecture,but also the names of Tibetans themselves.

Names.There are some 100 kinds of Tibetan surnames.In ancient Tibetan,while Gewo , Zhol, Leg, Gar, Qen, Dong, Bo, Rab, Se and some others are representative of single-word surnames, Gesing,Jimei,Gusa,Xiongyam,Woqu,Jijiao and Garwa are commonly seen double-word surnames.All these names are rooted in the names of tribal clans.They do not infer clan relationship and social status.No matter what they are,it is hard to tell their meaning today.

Surnames come first before given names ,such as Gewo Qoigyi Gyamco,Jor Xerab Doje,and Jijiao Dawa Wese.Some Tibetan families have their hand-copied bok of Tibetan names enshrined at home.


During the second spread of Buddhism in Tibet,Buddhist sects mushroomed.In response to the change,Tibetan names became complicated.There emerged surnames special for aristocrats,tribal leaders.wealthy merchants,headmen and rich families.There were also those who used names of monasteries and palaces ans well as honorific titles of lamas as surnames.For ordinary people,they used the names of their birthplaces and houses as surnames.In this case,a name is composed of ancient surname,family name and one’s own name.A case in point is Galoon Dongtsan Yusum.“Ga”is the surname of ancient clan and “loon”means minister.Such a name carries strong tint of Buddhist culture.It has three parts,with the first part representing the ancient dialect culture ,second part name referring to the name of one’s clan and hence carrying strong local cultural color,and the third part bearing religious color.

During the Yuan(1271-1368) and ensuing period,various lamas,Living Buddhas and local officials in Tibet received honorific titles from the Central Government.Out of respect,then,they tended to put such titles replaced their surnames.

Given the fact that the Tibetans live together with their Chinese culture. There are also Tibetans who marry Chinese.Tibetans have Chinese surnames.Examples include Chinese surname Li in the Tibetan name of Li Nyima, Yang in Yang Denzhol and Zhang in Zhang Dawa.


Religious Tint.Some have names taken from the name of Buddha,such as Jamyang which is a name of a Buddha denoting wisdom.Others have names meaning the spread of Buddhism or taken from Buddhist terms,such as Tubdain Nyima meaning Buddhist doctrines and the Sun,Dainba Dagyai meaning the spread of Buddhism,Jingba meaning giving alms,and Xerab meaning wisdom.

Naming Children.There is no special restriction on naming ordinary Tibetans.At birth,a child was traditionally teken to the Lama or Living Buddha for naming,and the latter would name the child in accordance with its zodiac sign and gender.Generally,boys have a name representing power and valiant energy,and girls have names meaning beautiful or something like that.
∙ Be they boys or girls,their names tend to be very religious.This depends on the Buddhist sect the name-giving lama or Living Buddha belongs to .Lamas or Living Buddhas of the Gagyu Sect tend to give names such as Gama;those of Nyingma Sect give Bemar;those of Sagya Sect give Goingar;and those of Gelug Sect give Lhosum.All these name-giving lamas or living Buddhas do so with a view to showing their boundless loyalty for their masters.
∙Some names are given in accordance with their birth time.Examples include Mimar meaning Tuesday and Ceju meanning the 10th day.
∙Some names are given purposely to be humble,such as Qigyai meaning dog’s droppings,Qizhol meaning little dog,and Niuwa meaning cow dung.
Lay people tend not to change their names.
Tibetan monks and nuns tend to have several names.When they are tonsured to a monastery,each will get Buddhist name and the original name will be discarded.When they have finished studying the Hetu on logic,their masters will give them another name………

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